What I didn’t get for Christmas.

At my house, Christmas Eve is the night when we’ve always celebrated the most. Decades ago there were elaborate dinner parties for 10+, complete with extensive menus and many bottles of wine consumed. In more recent years, however, it’s been me and the fabulous Lilly boys enjoying a still somewhat elaborate meal and exchanging gifts. It’s our Christmas.

This year the weeks leading up to the holiday have been difficult. This cold I’ve been suffering with took weeks out of my calendar and there were many traditional activities which I simply could not accomplish. Our usual Christmas card? Not done. Look for one in January, friends. If you’ve grown accustomed to receiving a plate of cookies or a loaf of bread from my kitchen, those also went by the wayside this year. Unfortunately, just wasn’t feeling up to it.

But, there’s good news about things not given or received.

On Friday, 12/23, in the afternoon I was given a CT scan of my chest. The pain I continue to feel when I cough or sneeze or laugh or sit up or breathe continues to be beyond anything I’ve ever experienced and the MD wanted to rule out a pulmonary embolism. I’m very happy to report that I don’t have any signs of having one.

When I woke up on Christmas Eve, I discovered that I didn’t have running water in my kitchen, so we can also chalk that up to something not received. It was the weirdest thing…I’ve been in this house for 26 years and I’ve never before experienced my pipes freezing, no matter how cold it was outside. Oddly, the only area of my house that didn’t have water flowing was the kitchen aka the place where I most needed water on a day when I intended to prepare dinner for 5 later in the day.


As a kid, I was very familiar with frozen water pipes. It was simply part of winter in our uninsulated home with pipes running beneath the floor in an unheated, dirt floored crawl space. Thanks to those memories, I had a sense of what to look for and some action I might be able to take to get things flowing again. Even though it didn’t seem possible that the copper pipes below my sink could be the source of the problem, I hit them with the blow dryer hoping for a miracle.

No such luck.

I did my best to “chase” the pipes to wear that might run to no avail. They’re in the wall and unreachable. I prepared myself for washing dishes in the tub until I might get a professional in to assess and repair the problem and went on with my day. By 10:25 I had picked up my order from Cardona’s, gotten to the grocery store for a few last minute items and was unrolling my mat for a gentle hot yoga class. Life keeps going even if the water doesn’t, right?

My intention once I returned home was to leave a pleading note on the plumbing company van parked around the corner from my house. I thought, perhaps, that the person who belonged to that van and lived in my neighborhood might be interested in making a little extra Christmas cash. But, first, I phoned my incredibly handy and talented neighbor, Ken, to see if he had any ideas. If you know him, you know how meticulous he is and I hoped he might have some ideas about where the problem originated.

A few moments later Ken was investigating the situation, visiting three floors of my house trying to determine where the stoppage was in the walls or basement. Sadly, he came up empty and, with a consoling hug, left without being able to resolve the issue. About 2 minutes later, though, my phone rang. Ken wanted to know about the small door on the side of my home (probably used as a milk delivery spot back in the day), which apparently was thrown wide open. I rushed down the stairs.

Despite having lived in this property for more than a quarter century, I had never before noticed this small door. I’m uncertain if it was the winds from the night before or something or someone else, but it was open to the elements. Ken had reached in and lo and behold, there were the pipes which presumably led to my kitchen sink. I grabbed the blow dryer and an extension cord while Ken went to retrieve a roll of insulation he had in his garage. Within 30 minutes, the water was once again flowing. A Christmas miracle for sure!

As you might imagine, the day got even better. I put together a marinade of olive oil, garlic, rosemary and salt and pepper and doused the gorgeous butterflied leg of lamb I had ordered from McCarroll’s. Yukon golds were scrubbed and cut for mashing and asparagus were prepped for roasting. While a loaf of bread baked, I ran a bath (in the freshly scrubbed, post-washing dishes tub) and the vacuum. The afternoon had taken on a different feeling, one that was relaxed and calm, and the pace of my preparations was downright languid. I felt no stress about the cooking and serving that was still to come.

After my bath, complete with bubbles, I put on a pretty dress and drove myself to The Aviary for the best Manhattan mixed by my favorite and beloved bartender. That quick hour, equally divided into time at the gorgeous cocktail bar and in front of the cozy fireplace, was the perfect transition between chores and indulgence and I relished each moment. I got back home at about 7:30, with my sons +1, expected by 8:00. I set the table for our pre-dinner antipasto and fired up the oven to roast the lamb. It all was incredibly simple.

At a time of the year when so many focus on what they may not have gotten, it is with deep gratitude that I can express my sincere appreciation for not having received a bad medical diagnosis, an expensive plumbing bill related to my frozen pipes or a meal that came with stress. I hope you were given similar gifts.

PS. The featured image (of my house) in this post was created by Ken Ragsdale, my neighbor, for Historic Albany’s recent BUILT event. I requested 3 prints of the work, which I gifted to my sons. Ken surprised me with a 4th print for my very own. I truly have the best neighbors!

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